(Update) Arroyo fails to meet Obama

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 06 2009 11:53 AM | Updated as of Feb 06 2009 11:21 PM

President Arroyo failed to personally meet United States President Barack Obama during her trip to Washington DC.

Mrs. Arroyo arrived at the Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. at 2 a.m. straight from Bahrain after coming from the economic summit in Davos, Switzerland. She flew to the US to participate in Obama’s first national prayer breakfast.

"There are about six to seven heads of state including our own president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and there's the attraction no. 1, the new president Barack Obama," said former congressman Dante Liban. Liban joins the event every year.

However, Mrs. Arroyo did not get to meet Obama, much less shake Obama’s hand.

Deputy presidential spokeswoman Lorelei Fajardo clarified that meeting Obama at the event was not part of Mrs. Arroyo’s itinerary.

Obama briefly attended the breakfast meeting and immediately left the event after delivering his speech.

Outside the event at the Washington Hilton, human rights activists braved the frigid air to deliver their message to Mrs. Arroyo.

They suggested President Arroyo should get an appointment with President Obama next time she's in town.

"It would be better if she got a one-on-one meeting, a more in-depth discussion because Obama is on record of being supportive of human rights and I'd like to see how Obama sees Arroyo's record on human rights,” said Redante Asuncion-Reed.

The President's side-trip to Washington forced Philippine embassy officials there to work overtime to fill her schedule. Philippine embassy staffers learned the President was coming only last Monday.

Sources said even Ambassador Willy Gaa, who was on an out-of-state assignment, rushed back to Washington.

They have cobbled meetings with top congressional, state and intelligence officials to counter questions back home if the trip was worth it.

At the Capitol hills, Mrs. Arroyo met with US senators John Kerry, Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka.

The President expressed her gratitude to Inouye and Akaka for their support to the Filipino Veterans Equity that aims to provide benefits to Filipinos World War II veterans.

Also, for the very first time, Mrs. Arroyo met Ohio Congressman Steve Austria, the first-generation Filipino elected to the US Congress.

Mrs. Arroyo and her delegation are staying at the Four Seasons Hotel. Critics view the President's visit as wasteful and scandalous especially now that the Philippines expects to suffer more from the global recession.

"Hindi ko aalisin sa isip ng marami kung masama sa panlasa ang kanyang ginawa, hindi napapanahon dahil sa kinahaharap ng ating bansa lalung-lalo na marami nanghihirap sa ating bansa," said Sen. Francis Escudero.

The President is set to attend the US-ASEAN Business Council Meeting and will meet with National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair.

Other sources said officials were trying to arrange a possible meeting with Mrs. Arroyo and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before heading to San Francisco for a flight back to Manila.  With Rodney Jaleco and ABS-CBN North America News Bureau chief Ging Reyes